December 16, 2021 - Old Nantasket

Thursday, December 16, 2021

I imagine most people who read my Shipwreck Point Mysteries have long since figured out that the inspiration for these books has largely come from the Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner. In my opinion, those books and the television series they inspired are almost the perfect combination of plot and character.

But few people know that the other half—or maybe more than half—of the inspiration for the series is the history of a small seaside town in Massachusetts. I met someone who lived there, and after several years of living close by, I managed to buy a condo one block from the beach in Hull.

I’d always wanted to live near the beach. I grew up on Long Island, and both sets of grandparents owned bungalows in Breezy Point where we visited often. So it was only natural that when I was able, I lived on the beach, too.

It wasn’t only the water and the sand that attracted me. It was also the idea of living in a small town, a summer town where almost everything closed down after Labor Day, not to reopen until the following May. It also had a rich history, kept alive by memories of Paragon Park, where several generations rode the carousel and big wooden roller coaster. The amusement park had closed decades before I arrived, but whenever I mentioned I lived in Hull, the first words out of the listener’s mouth were a tale of Paragon Park.

There was more to the history of Hull than an amusement park. The first night baseball game was played under electric lights on a field in Hull. Because of its location at the entrance to Boston Harbor, many ships foundered off its coast, and the Life-Saving Station with a team led by Joshua James was famous for its rescues. Today the station is a museum and well worth a visit. And then there was the shadier side of Hull’s history.

Local historian John Galluzzo has written several books about the town, and I met him at various local events where he was selling and signing them. (I never dreamed I’d be selling and signing books myself one day at events like that.) Anyway, I’m not sure whether it was in a conversation with him or a credit in one of his books that started me on the hunt for a book named Old Nantasket by one Dr. William M. Bergan.

It turned out the book was out of print and almost impossible to find. And so I grabbed the only copy I eventually came across, even though the cover was water-stained and creased. Later on there was another printing, and I bought a new copy. But I’ve also held onto the old one just in case.

Dr. Bergan, a dentist, was a member of the Old Ring, a corrupt organization run by Boss Smith, that controlled everything in the town. If you remember your history, think Tammany Hall, but on a smaller scale. Later in life, he was moved to write the history of those days. The drinking, the gambling, the houses of prostitution, and the elegant hotels where people like President Grover Cleveland came to stay. They were entertained by the likes of Harry Houdini and Jenny Lind. The wealthy of Boston built summer “cottages” in Hull to get away from the heat in the city. The less wealthy took a steamboat from Long Wharf or the train for day trips.

Dr. Bergan writes in a frank and folksy style, often with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. In addition to being informative, the book is a delight to read. I’ve borrowed several incidents that occur in the Shipwreck Point books from real events described in Old Nantasket. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, Nantasket is what the Indians called the peninsula, and what the beach is still called today.

So there you are. You never know what events in your life will inspire a book, much less a series. I’m glad one of the them was getting to know Hull, Massachusetts.

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